April 4, 2017No Comments

Little Dieter Needs to Fly, Werner Herzog, 1997

Dieter Dengler was a German born American pilot who became a POW after being shot out of the sky during his first mission in the Vietnam war. He spent 6 months as a prisoner, brutalised and starved, and then escaped through the jungle and got rescued after almost a month. In a nutshell, the traditional W. Herzog character.  

It’s characters like Dengler that allow Herzog to push his own patented style of documentaries to the front, one where improvisation and set-up are mandatory in milking his own special brew, the ecstatic truth

That’s why, in Little Dieter Needs to Fly you stumble upon clearly constructed moments, of uncertain origin (one always suspects Herzog of foul-play, in the service of truth, of course). Here’s an example: Dieter in front of an aquarium filled with jellyfish talking about how death is like this shapeshifting form to him. And so on. 

Apart from the lyrical side of it, you got the usual lot of Herzogian boyscout tales and tutorials, from how to make fire in the jungle to how to open cufflinks with a paper clip. Music choices are at odds with the images, as usual, again, making for a fresh an atypical 1 hour and 13 minutes documentary.

Seeing a Werner Herzog film remains one of cinema’s greatest gifts.

January 10, 2017No Comments

The Dark Glow of the Mountain, Werner Herzog, 1985

The Dark Glow of the Mountain is a 45 minute documentary where Mr. Herzog follows Reinhold Messner, the world’s first to climb all 14 peaks over 8000 m, in an attempt to climb in a single take two Gasherbrum mountains, with no oxigen tanks or other funny tricks to help.

Basically, yet another Herzogian character, conquerer of the useless, in the tradition of Aguirre, Fitzcarraldo, Timothy Treadwell, Dieter Dengler, testing its resistance against nature’s implacable force and indifference. Hurray!

In retrospect, Herzog’s documentaries transform to be more and more about himself rather then the subject on hand. Before leaving camp, Messner holds a short instruction meeting with Herzog where he designates him the leader of the expedition in his absence, and tells him how to take care of everything in case the attempt fails and Messner dies.

January 6, 2017No Comments

The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner, Werner Herzog, 1974

It’s probably around the period of The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner that Werner Herzog started coining the concept of “ecstatic truth”. 

Here’s what the man thinks about it:

There are deeper strata of truth in cinema, and there is such a thing as poetic, ecstatic truth. It is mysterious and elusive, and can be reached only through fabrication and imagination and stylisation.

That being said, here’s a documentary about a Swiss sky jumper, Walter Steiner. Besides being an athlete, Steiner is also shown sculpting a piece of wood and talking in grandiose metaphores about its meaning. Just once. Are we to directly associate sky jumping with a sort of artistic endeavour? 

Most likely. Herzog has expressed in numerous times his high regard towards sky jumpers, their unique act and their psychological struggle and his own regret for not being one. But he feels like one, and he makes an emotional connection between the ordeals of his craft - filmmaking, and that of Steiner’s.

The film follows - (sometimes in gorgeous old-fashioned news stand-up style, by WH himself; sometimes in slow motion shots of the jumps) the 1974 competition at Planica in former Yugoslavia.

Fantastic use of music.

Late note: There’s such a joy and vibrancy of filmmaking at work here, just makes me giddy. 

January 3, 2017No Comments

La Soufriere, Werner Herzog, 1977

Here’s a premise for you. Hearing that a volcano, named La Soufriere is about to erupt on an island in the Guadeloupe and that the whole island has evacuated except for one single man who refused to take refuge, Mr. Herzog assembles a film crew of 3 and gets to the place right away looking for the answer to the obvious question: why didn’t the man leave?  

The quest is worthwhile depending on how the answer rings your bell. The man they find is asleep under a tree, cradling a cat. 

December 8, 2016No Comments

Heart of Glass, Werner Herzog, 1976

A film detached completely from norms. An eerie experience is the working horse expression. Roger Ebert writes that the film “should be approached like a piece of music, in which we comprehend everything in terms of mood and aura.”

This is the famed W.Herzog picture where most of the cast acts while under hypnosis. 

Narrative, as little as it is, revolves around a XVII century village, where the craftsman of a special kind of glass - ruby - dies without sharing his recipe. There’s a mad young nobleman in the village. He’s obsessed with trying to get the recipe back. The recipe become the metaphor for life, for everything lost.

The film abounds in images whose only function is to trigger something different than understanding through reasoning. You look, you don’t get it, yet the images sink through your cracks, and disturb you deeply. They’re hard to remember factually two weeks later, but their effect trails on. 

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